From Both Sides Now
12 August 2008 | Nice to Monaco and Back
With the realization that we had to remain docked in Nice until parts ordered from the US arrived, we decided to rent a car and tour the coast. Docking, albeit refreshing after a few days at sea, isn't my favourite place to be. I would rather be anchored a short distance from shore, knowing we can travel to town in our dinghy when we want or remain securely in a quiet bay. Harbours are by nature safe havens and offer shelter from weather, but without wind, comes immense heat. Although we have adjusted our schedules to meet with the midday searing spike, there is no reprieve unless ducking into stores and stores mean tourists and tourists mean crowds or closing ourselves into the air conditioned comfort of Windancer. When anchored, we trust there will be a small breeze and there are always the crystal clear Mediterranean seas to dive into.
The Nice Marina is home to the tiny and the tinsel - small sailboats, fishing boats and the ever-present mega yachts. A mere 15 feet from our bow lies Samar, a 77 metre yacht with its own helicopter and Mini Cooper. Behind her lies Christina O, the original Onassis boat who in her prime must have been splendid, but looks a wee bit weary now. Across the way is Martha Ann, a new 60 meter navy blue beauty. Samar, a Kuwaitee corporately owned boat hosts the owners this week (although it seems that the actual owners of the boats spend only3-4 weeks aboard each year, and unless in charter, the yacht sits in a marina throughout the rest of the year). Accompanying the owners of Samar is a huge chocolate lab who doesn't have to rely on the crew for shore leave, but instead has his own room on board. Ahhh, the dog's life. (By the way, I have been remiss in my writings, but promise to load a few perspectives including: A Dog's Life, A Month is Southern France, Barcelona - the Quiet Beauty, and Rituals.)
So, sequestered in the Nice Marina, we got a few chores under our belt including washing the deck from bow to stern, cleaning heads, defrosting the fridge and changing the oil in our port engine. After lunch and showers, we picked up our 2 door Corsa and headed out of Nice for Eze, one of the perched villages slightly inland.
These villages perches were built on hilltops around a fortified chateau in the early Middle Ages as safe havens from a series of invaders coming from the coast or the hinterland. They were chosen for the 360-degree vantage points and the towns were built in the local stone to blend in with the landscape.
Leaving Nice we had the choice of three corniche roads leading to Monaco. Snaking one on top of the other, you can take the high road, the coastal route of the middle road. We headed along Moyenne Corniche (the middle road) for what seemed like just minutes and arrived in Eze located just 14 km from Nice. Parking in one of two parkades, we started to walk up the steep walkways into Eze, situated at the top of a 1400 foot hill. Built on sheer rock, the fortified village is possibly the most perche of all the villages with narrow lanes, twisting alleys and crooked stairs. Originally founded as a Ligurian settlement, over the years Eze has been sacked, burned and destroyed countless times as the Phoenicians, Romans, Lombards, Saracens, pirates and French fought for her occupation. Finally, in an era of peace, Eze began to rebuild herself, only to fall to the forces of nature as an earthquake of 1887 destroyed the fortress and split what remained of the town walls.
Today Eze is like an open air museum filled with galleries, restaurants and craft shops including the olive wood carver who makes the smoothest bowls, salad tongs and craggly old faces. (My personal quest is to buy a salad bowl but I am holding out for Africa to get a better price than the 150EU asked in France.)
We hiked up to the Jardin Exotique, a collection of cacti and sculptures leading to the top of the hill. From our vantage point we could see down in to St Jean Cap Ferrat, Villefranche, Nice (and on a clear day all the way to St Tropez). Thunder, lightening and a smattering of rain greeted us on the top of the hill, something we welcomed after almost two months without rain. We huddled under the remains of the fortress and then made our way back down to the car.
We made our way east towards Monaco slowed by traffic as we crossed Cap d'Ail, the small little luxury village lying in France. We made our way into the smallest European principality, a mere 1.5 square miles, and drove through the town, past the Hotel de Paris and Monte Carlo Casino along the Monte Carlo race course and back out of the town. What I had not realized before we cruised the Cote d'Azur is how close all of these famous enclaves are to one another. Nice to Monaco is a mere 20 km. We stopped in the beach of Cap d'Ail and let the kids go for a swim before heading westward along the Basse Corniche which meanders along the coast. We entered the lush, green point of the super luxury villas and hotels on St. Jean Cap Ferrat. Driving through this exclusive enclave, we could only glimpse the villas behind gated drives, high hedges and hidden cameras.
We continued to Villefranche, my personal favourite of all the towns on the Cote d'Azur. From the quiet anchorage we had spied her neon signs but it was only ashore that we discovered the beauty hidden in the trompe l'oil facades amidst the purple bougainvillea covered walls, covered streets, steep lanes and fortress. There is a certain charm in her streets and the many restaurants greet the guests from the yachts anchored in the bay between Villefranche and Cap Ferrat and the drivers from Monaco and Nice. We dined along the water in a restaurant where the waiters had to cross the lanes of traffic to deliver your meals. John and I have become fans of the local cusine including Moule Frites (mussels and French fries), Salade Chevre Chaude (baked goats cheese on baguette slices nestled in greens with pine nuts) and rose wine.
Returning to Nice, a mere 5 minute drive, I thought of our day inland versus the days at sea. We have looked at the land from both sides now. Although faster to get to and easier to access via car, the villas of Cap Ferrat can only be enjoyed from the seas. And there is something to be said for the feeling of 'we-made-itness' you experience when you anchor in a bay and dinghy ashore to the hidden gems of towns along the Cote d'Azur.